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January 27, 1998

LEGO UNVEILS BUILDING BLOCK WITH EMBEDDED CHIP

By CBR Staff Writer

Hoping to guarantee a place in the hearts and minds of children well into the next century Billund, Denmark, based Lego Group has announced Lego Mindstorms – a new category of toys that allow children to build and program robotic inventions that can move, act and think on their own. A long way from the traditional box of colored stacking bricks, today’s children will receive a jumbled box of digital technology including everything they need to build and program their own lego robot. The Mindstorm kit includes a CD-ROM, 700 LEGO elements, an RCX microcomputer, an infrared transmitter, light and touch sensors, motors, gears, and a building guide. Aimed at children 11 years or older a box of Mindstorm Lego, when it is launched next Autumn will cost in the region of 150 pounds in the UK and kids will also need a basic multimedia computer, at least a Pentium 90MHz with 16 megahertz of RAM and a CD-ROM. At the heart of the product is the RCX, a special Lego brick embedded with a microchip that children can program, using a PC. The RCX acts as the robot’s brain taking input from its environment, processing data and driving action and behavior. First, children need to build their robot, using the RCX and LEGO elements. Its easy, said one thirteen year old holding a complicated triffid like robot in his hand This only took twenty minutes. Then they have to create a program for their invention using RCX Code, a simple programming language with an intuitive building brick interface, also by all accounts easy. The program allows you to dictate actions like move forward for 10 seconds then turn right. or If you hit something, (see a light, hear a sound whatever) return to me etc. Once the program is finished it can be downloaded to the RCX using the infrared transmitter. According to officials at the company, Mindstorm is the result of more than a decade of research and development in close co-operation with the media laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Seymour Papert, Professor of Learning Research at MIT and brainchild of the project believes the programmable Lego brick gives children the use of a technology that vastly expands what they can make. The makers of video games have used digital technology to make their amazing products, he said But they seldom pass on to children this power to construct, this power to invent, given to them by the technology. The programmable brick does just that. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen president and CEO of the Lego group and grandson of the founder believes that there is now no limit to what children can create, Now that they can build in behaviors their creations can come alive, he said. The interaction between the computer, the creations and the children creates a whole new form of learning and fun. Mindstore will be launched in the United States and the United Kingdom during autumn 1998 and will also be available for purchase on the internet. Also on offer next Autumn will be Lego Technic Cybermaster a futuristic game that combines the virtual fun of onscreen adventure with physical models that children can build and bring to life with a PC. Computerwire found that ninth grade children trialing the products in the UK responded well to the technology. Boys were more enamoured than girls and kids that had a computer at home were also more comfortable with the programming. One complaint, or was it a compliment? was that the product made you think. Certainly the possibilities did seem endless as one kid proudly demonstrated with his creation of a Lego basketball player programmed to sink a ball in a basket time and time again. For parents we suspect there will be a different complaint. With a top of the range CD-ROM video computer game priced at around 40 or 50 pounds, Lego Mindstorm’s 150 pound mark might be interpreted as a touch pricey – how much?

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